Manu Ginobili, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo

Celtics, Spurs prove the antidote to the L.A./Miami show

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This was a basketball’s fan’s matchup.

It wasn’t about the hype or the reality shows, it was about the game. With all the focus on Los Angeles and Miami, too many have missed that Boston and San Antonio have played the best basketball and have the best records in the league.

It is far too early to talk about this as any kind of preview, but watching the Spurs and Celtics go at it in January showed us all this would make a fantastic NBA finals. You know it’s not what David Stern is pulling for. You know it’s not what most of America wants to see in June. You know the suits at ESPN/ABC want Kobe and Phil and LeBron and Dwyane. They want the glitz and soap opera to help sell the telecast.

That’s not Celtics vs. Spurs — this was pure and about the game. It was a basketball fan’s matchup. This was for the die hards. If those seven games in June were half as fun as this this 105-103 Celtics win on a cold Wednesday in January, the rest of the country would catch on. This was entertaining.

Not that a finals between these two would look like what we saw Wednesday night, for example the Spurs would not be on the second night of a back-to-back. And you can bet the execution in the last two minutes will be a lot better by both teams (this got sloppy). Plus, you can bet both teams will be a lot tighter defensively by then. (They will be or they won’t be there.) If the Spurs don’t start playing better defense soon I fear for Gregg Popovich’s health. He benched DeJuan Blair early, called two quick time outs and his blood pressure was clearly way up.

That was in part because Popovich’s Spurs had no defensive answer for Rajon Rondo, who had 22 assists to go with his 12 points, 10 rebounds (the last scooping up Paul Pierce’s block of a Manu Ginobili shot at the buzzer) and six steals.

A lot of Rondo’s assists went to Ray Allen, who destroyed the Spurs with 31 on the night. Boston ran Allen of screens early and Ginobili could not keep up, giving Allen time for good look catch-and-shoots. Allen had a very quick six points, and that got him going. The Spurs went to George Hill on Allen and he was better but that didn’t work, Allen had his momentum and nobody was stopping the roll he was on. After the game, Popovich fell back on sarcasm to talk about Allen, as reported at Celtics Hub.

“Ray needs to work on his shooting a little bit. He only hit 13 out of 16.”

Both Rondo and Allen played key roles in the run that won Boston the game. From the 2:28 mark of the fourth quarter — when the game was tied 96-96 — until :56 seconds remained Boston played about as well as they could (without Kevin Garnett). And the Spurs made uncharacteristic mistakes.

That run by Boston started with Rondo probing, stopping 18 feet out, finding Glen Davis open along the baseline and hitting him with a snap pass from out top. Davis felt the help coming and slid the ball off to a cutting Marquis Daniels for the lay in.

Then on the other end Rondo baited Ginobili into a bad pass to Tony Parker that Rondo stole. Boson slowed it down (after a time out) and then once again Ginobili was slow coming off a Pierce screen and Allen got another good look at a three. You can guess how that went.

Then after a defensive stop got the Celtics the ball back, they came down, Rondo came off a Pierce high screen and drove uncontested until he was 8 feet from the rim, at which point he hit a pretty little floater in the lane. Then seconds later Allen stripped Hill and took it for a breakaway layup.

It was a 9-0 Boston run to put them up 105-96 — and they would need every bit of that to hang on and win, because it was time for the Spurs to execute and Boston to stop.

First Ginobili hit a catch-and-shoot three. Then Tony Parker stole the ball from Pierce (there might have been a foul there) for a layup. Then Manu stole a pass intended for Rondo (there was a foul there) and Richard Jefferson got fouled trying to convert that to a layup. Hill hit the free throws, and it was 105-103. Then came maybe the strangest part of the game — after a Pierce miss and Nate Robinson offensive rebound, the Spurs had to foul and so they fouled Allen. Who promptly missed two clutch free throws. I can’t remember the last time he did that.

The Spurs got one last chance but that’s when Pierce blocked the Ginobili shot at a three to win it, Rondo grabbed the rebound and that was the ballgame.

But what a ballgame.

Who knows what the NBA finals will look like? There’s more than half a season to go and both these teams need to stay healthy. Plus, those teams that Stern and the ABC suits like are good. It’s too early to say what will happen in the Eastern and Western conference finals.

But if the two teams that have played the best basketball in the NBA so far — Boston and San Antonio — were to meet again in June real fans of the game would be happy. Because that would be a fan’s matchup.

Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey on plan for Warriors: Bury them in an avalanche of threes

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 19: Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets speaks during a press conference announcing the signing of Jeremy Lin at Toyota Center on July 19, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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For a couple of seasons now, teams have tried to beat the Golden State Warriors by making the game ugly — slow, grinding, physical, and the opposite of the free-wheeling game they like. Only one team has had any real success with that strategy, and it has LeBron James on it (and even that wouldn’t have been enough if Draymond Green could keep his hands to himself).

So why not beat them at their own game?

That’s what Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey thought when he added Lou Williams to the roster, he said.

There is a sense around the Warriors that the Rockets may be a bigger concern than the Spurs, because Houston can score with them. Don’t confuse that with worry in the Bay Area, they are the best team in the West if healthy, but the Rockets may be the team they face off against in the conference finals.

And if that happens, Lou Williams is going to play a significant role.

Pelicans add guard Jarrett Jack on 10-day deal

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17:  Jarrett Jack #2 of the Brooklyn Nets in action against the Atlanta Hawks during their game at The Barclays Center on November 17, 2015 in New York City.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Jarrett Jack has agreed to join the New Orleans Pelicans on a 10-day contract.

Jack is an 11-year-veteran who has not played since seriously injuring his knee 32 games into last season while a starter with Brooklyn. He averaged 12.8 points and 7.4 assists for Nets last season before his injury.

Jack worked out for the Pelicans on Thursday night and joined the team for practice Friday.

New Orleans plays next on Saturday night at Dallas.

Report: Cavaliers, Rockets — not Warriors — looking to add waived Andrew Bogut

DALLAS, TX - SEPTEMBER 26:  Andrew Bogut #6 of the Dallas Mavericks poses for a portrait during the Dallas Mavericks Media Day held at American Airlines Center on September 26, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Some veteran players who can help a contender are about to hit the market via the waiver wire. Deron Williams is one, and the buzz around the league is he is destined for Cleveland. Matt Barnes is another.

Andrew Bogut will almost have his pick of contenders — including the Warriors, the NBA reviewed its rules and said that the Warriors can sign him even though they waived him a year ago — but it seems the Cavaliers and Rockets are at the top of the list, reports the Akron Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd.

There will be a number of suitors in pursuit of Bogut, who is also eligible to return to the Warriors because he was traded from Dallas to Philadelphia. He is ineligible to return only to the team that most recently traded him, which in this case is the Mavericks. So if the Warriors want him back, they may pursue him. The Cavs have long had their eye on Bogut, but they’ll have competition for him – primarily from the Houston Rockets.

Steve Kerr said the Warriors were not looking to add a big man to the roster out of the waiver pool, instead looking at wings and guards. You know, more shooting.

Bogut was traded to Philadelphia from Dallas as part of the Nerlens Noel deal, but the Sixers are expected to waive him in the coming days.

Report: Steve Ballmer in talks with Rams’ owner Kroenke to move Clippers to Inglewood

LOS ANGELES CA - OCTOBER 29: Steve Ballmer (C), owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, cheers for his team with his wife Connie Ballmer (L) at his side during pre game ceremonies before the home opener against Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center October 29, 2015, in Los Angeles California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Since he bought the Los Angeles Clippers for a cool $2 billion, Steve Ballmer has been looking for ways to get them out of the shadow of the Lakers. While Los Angeles is big enough — and has enough corporate interests — to support two NBA teams, the city’s heart belongs to the Lakers. It’s still a wide chasm. You can take my word as a lifelong Angelino, or you can go look at the television ratings — the Lakers are in the worst stretch of on-court basketball in franchise history, the Clippers are loaded with stars and are one of the better teams in the NBA, and yet the Lakers still win the ratings battle.

One way to get out of the shadow — get out of sharing the same building. The Clippers moved to Staples Center with the Lakers when it opened (Donald Sterling loved having the team closer to his offices) but Steve Ballmer is talking about getting out, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Representatives of Steve Ballmer and Stan Kroenke, two of the richest owners in professional sports, have had multiple discussions about the Clippers joining the Rams and Chargers in the sports and entertainment district Kroenke is building in Inglewood.

Five people with knowledge of the conversations told The Times the arena could either be on the 298-acre site or an adjacent parcel. Either way, an arena would drive traffic to the planned mixed-use development and share parking with the $2.6-billion football stadium scheduled to open in 2019.

The Clippers are on a lease that runs through 2024 at Staples, but Ballmer and company have not-so-subtly been looking at potential sites for a new venue. There isn’t a question if the former Microsoft CEO has the money to finance such a building, but there could be both an economy of scale and joint energy joining the new football facility.

The project in Inglewood — on the former Hollywood Park horseracing location, right across the street from the Forum where Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers reigned — is designed like many modern arenas to bring dining, entertainment, and housing to the area with the arenas providing foot traffic. Staples Center did that for the L.A. Live development in downtown Los Angeles, helping spark a renaissance of the entire area. However, there are a lot of questions from parking to who actually would own the land and arena.

If nothing else, it’s a sign Ballmer gets what the previous owner either never did or simply never cared enough to try to fix — he has to get out of the Lakers’ shadow. One step in that path is getting out of the same arena.